It’s happening again. The use of derogatory language when speaking about and to women, some public figures seem to have fallen back on their ‘default setting’ — being misogynist at the best of times, insensitive on other occasions and obnoxious the rest of the while.
On Wednesday, July 27, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury stirred up a major political row by calling newly-elected President Droupadi Murmu ‘Rashtrapatni’. What followed makes for awful but essential reading.
While the BJP launched an all-out offensive against the Congress, accused Chowdhury of hurling a ‘deliberate sexist insult’ at President Murmu and demanded an apology from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Chowdhury, who is the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said he never intended to disrespect the President and his ‘Rashtrapatni’ remark was a “slip of the tongue”.
The problem is this is not the first time President Murmu has been targeted. In June this year, before she was elected as the first tribal and only the second woman president of our country, filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma had given us a peek into his line of thought with respect to women when he posted a tweet. “If DRAUPADI is the PRESIDENT who are the PANDAVAS? And more importantly, who are the KAURAVAS?”, Varma said.
Although a case was filed against him on July 14 by a man claiming to be a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker in Bandra, Mumbai, the metropolitan magistrate has adjourned the matter to October 11 for taking cognisance of the complaint, which seeks action against Varma for offenses under sections 499 and 500 (defamation), 504 (intentionally insulting a person), and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the IPC, the complainant’s lawyer D V Saroj said.
This reminds me of the time actor Randeep Hooda had made a deeply-misogynist comment about BSP leader Mayawati while speaking at a public event in 2012. “I think I’ll tell a very dirty joke. It’s a sex position for God’s sake. We take it too seriously. There is…there was Ms. Mayawati… She’s walking along the street with two kids, two boys… and there was a man, like our man here…He asked her, ‘Are they twins?’ She said, ‘No, no, no…he’s 4, he’s 8.’ He (the man) says, ‘I can’t believe someone has been there twice!’”
Regrettably, Hooda’s audience, which comprised of women, reacted by laughing discordantly. After his ‘joke’ surfaced in May 2021 and elicited strong reactions, Hooda was removed as UN ambassador for the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the United Nation’s environmental treaty.
Hooda is not alone in pulling off such shenanigans.
Actor Siddharth is also guilty of acting appallingly by referring to badminton player Saina Nehwal as a ‘subtle-cock champion’. When outrage erupted, he wrote an open letter, apologising to Saina. “Dear Saina, I want to apologise to you for my rude joke that I wrote as a response to a tweet of yours, a few days ago. I may disagree with you on many things but even my disappointment or anger when I read your tweet, cannot justify my tone and words. I know I have more grace in me than that. As for the joke… If a joke needs to be explained, then it wasn’t a very good joke to begin with. Sorry about a joke that didn’t land,” he said.
In 2012, while describing women who were participating in a protest against the gangrape of a student in Delhi, then President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee stoked a major controversy by using words like ‘highly dented and painted’ about them. “Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila, highly dented and painted,” Abhijit, an MP had told a vernacular news channel.
Nobody has forgotten these words, even 10 years later. It is highly unlikely that deprecatory remarks about women occupying public office, this time the highest of them, will be forgotten by the people of India in a hurry. Garrulousness is never an attribute. Garrulousness at this scale is bound to cause much political heartburn and lead to major societal backlash.